A Life of Contradictions: What I’ve Learned About Resilience from Living with Multiple Marginalized Identities – Derek Daniels

About the Author:

Derek E. Daniels, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Wayne State University, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses. He received a 2018 Excellence in Teaching Award from Wayne State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dr. Daniels has been a certified speech-language pathologist since 2002. He also serves as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Fluency Disorders. Dr. Daniels is a person who stutters, provides clinical services for people who stutter, and supervises graduate student training in stuttering. He has participated in many self-help events, workshops, and clinical training programs for people who stutter, including Camp Shout Out. Dr. Daniels’ research focuses on public perceptions of people who stutter, identity construction, psychosocial experiences, and intersectionality. He is the current President-Elect of the Michigan Speech, Language, and Hearing Association.

I attended a conference for creative writers a few years ago. It was located in a small town in northern Michigan. I was one of the youngest participants there, and the only Black person. During the open mic, I volunteered to read a couple of poems I had written. While most in the audience were probably eager to read what they had written, my mind kept wrestling with the notion of disclosure – should I disclose myself as a person who stutters, and if so, how? I ended up not disclosing, and, as I read, felt quite a bit of anxiety about wondering whether or not I would stutter. 

During break time, a few of us were sitting comfortably around a coffee table talking about lots of different topics, including 80s television shows. The conversation shifted to favorite childhood crushes. As people fondly revealed their crushes, I cleverly avoided, as I was so used to doing. Until someone said, we still haven’t heard Derek’s answer. The person next to me jokingly said, “I bet it was ‘Tootie’ from the Facts of Life.” (If you’re too young to remember, this was an 80s television show, and “Tootie” was Kim Field’s character). I felt a huge rush of anxiety before finally saying, “Actually. It was Tom Cruise.” And there it was again. Disclosure, but in a different way. Again, I had to decide if and how I would do so.

As someone who has grown up with multiple marginalized identities, much of life has been about contradictions – contradictions about my intrinsic speaking patterns versus what my speaking patterns were expected to be; contradictions about how I wanted to love versus how I was expected to love; and contradictions about how my skin color mattered to me versus how it mattered to others. When your identities aren’t reinforced by your environment, aren’t the norm for your environment, and few role models exist to help you navigate it all, you have to learn ways to make life satisfying. I know all too well the experience of hiding, challenging other’s assumptions about me, and what it means to bounce back in the face of adversity. I don’t usually offer up a lot of myself in a conversation, more out of habit than anything else, and most of the time, people get to know me on a deeper level because they take the initiative. But now, with this article, I decided to take the initiative and offer three takeaways of what I have learned about resiliency – what keeps me “bouncing back” in the face of adversity.

Seek out spaces that validate your identities. 

The classic saying “variety is the spice of life” rings true for me. The world is so connected, especially through social media platforms, that there are plenty of ways to find spaces that honor who we are. When I was growing up, there were very few spaces to explore my identities. It was mostly “grin and bear.” Support groups certainly existed, but I did not find them. Finding people who could motivate and support me in the right ways was important to my resiliency. 

You can always take advantage of another opportunity.

I invited a guest speaker to one of my graduate classes to speak about working for contract companies. One of my students asked the speaker for advice on getting stuck somewhere that you don’t like. Before the speaker responded directly to the question, she said, “First, I would say that you are never stuck.” I have since thought about how this profound principle applies to so many situations. Many times, I dwelled on situations that did not go well. If I spoke and stuttered in a way I was not pleased with, it was as if that was the end. I remained stuck in my thoughts and feelings. Part of my resiliency was learning that even when situations don’t go as you would like them to, you can always try again. You can always prepare for the next time. You are not defined by one moment. Instead, it’s about how you transcend the moment. No one will remember (or care) how much I blocked from a prior conversation.

We are always a work in progress.

Sometimes, people are surprised when I say that I still get nervous on the first day of teaching. The truth is, yes, I do. Whenever I am in a committee meeting, and the facilitator of the meeting asks for introductions, my heart still skips a beat. I still feel the lump in my throat when the person right before me speaks, knowing that I will be next. And if I stutter on my name or anywhere else in the introduction, I can still feel embarrassed. Whenever I am asked about dating or relationships, I may still dance around the answer, depending on who I am talking to. As a Black person, I still make cultural adjustments when I am in environments where I am the minority. I may not always make the most ideal choices, but I make the choices that are best for me, given the situation. We are always a work in progress – sometimes we step forward, and sometimes we step back. Resiliency for me is not giving myself a hard time when I take a step backwards. It’s knowing that’s it’s okay to sometimes not be okay, and the okay moments will keep coming back.

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A Life of Contradictions: What I’ve Learned About Resilience from Living with Multiple Marginalized Identities – Derek Daniels — 40 Comments

  1. Thank you Dr. Daniels for your reminding us that we’re a work in progress and are never really stuck. As the parent of a 24-year old who stutters, I can remember many times when I felt stuck in a puddle of fear and self-doubt. And yet, we sure don’t want our kids to get stuck in this mindset when they have speech tension. We don’t want them to be hard on themselves when things don’t go as planned. We want them to be forgiving and grateful and filled with joy as often as possible. Thank you for being a role model!

    • Thank you so much, Dori! I appreciate your comment. It takes time, but the goal is to learn to keep moving forward. -Derek

      • Thank you so much for your story. I also stuttered as a child, but have learned to manage it as an adult. I overprepare for public speaking, not because of my stutter, but to prove my competence. As a black woman, I can relate to feeling marginalized in multiple aspects of life. I feel judged before I speak. There is always a battle to fight, or a point to be proven. I feel pressured to appear a certain way as to not be associated with some of the negative stereotypes that are so harmful to our culture. The result of this is that sometimes I feel as if I cannot express myself in certain ways, like changing my hair color, for example. I applaud you for learning to completely accept who you are, even when others do not.

  2. Thank you for sharing and I love the “we are always a work in progress”. One question I have for you is what is stuttering like for a person of color? Is it perceived differently in the black community? Or is it more by overall society that marginalizes due to race?

    Would love to hear about this as stuttering in marginalized races (black, Hispanic, native American, etc.) is something that I have never heard about before so am very intrigued to get your take on this topic.

    • Hi Kunal! Thank you so much for your comment. I think in the same way that not all people who stutter have the same experiences, not all people of color who stutter have the same experiences. The differences come in when people feel a sense of rejection from their respective cultural communities for stuttering, and, as you mentioned, by overall society that marginalizes due to race. There can be differences in how cultural groups might perceive stuttering. I have a couple of articles I can send your way about this.

  3. I appreciate the reminder to evaluate the spaces in which you’re occupying. If they’re not here for you or you’re compromising your self for something, why are you there?? And of course, the complexities of survival and picking battles etc. is a reality folks with multiple marginalized identities have to navigate and consider. But no matter what, you say it when you mention that we have the power within us to create and craft the world that we want to surround ourselves with. It’s something to not forget. <3

    • Thank you so much for your comment! Yes, we have more power than we think! I appreciate your insights!!

  4. Thank you an amazing paper! You may not have had a role model who you could relate to as a child/teen, but you now provide an impressive role model for many young children growing up in today’s world. I/They appreciate you taking on this role.

  5. Great !! Impactful presentation.Thank you for sharing .It’s motivational and supporting to many who needs waiting time for them.your vision helps to buildup power of positivity.Stay blessed.

  6. Thank you for this, Dr. Daniels. Your perspective is very refreshing, especially when you say that we are always a work in progress. I believe that’s true for all human beings but especially people who stutter.
    It’s imperative to remember not to be too hard on ourselves when we take a step back, so thank you for emphasizing this.

    • Thank you, Ryan!! I have to always keep reminding myself of this. Thank you so much for reading my story!!

  7. Hi Derek,

    I really loved this paper, for several reasons. One reason simply is that it is short and sweet. You tell what you are going to talk about, then you do, precisely and with confidence, then you summarize for us.

    Writing is hard, especially when there is a word limit and if the topic is broad, as is this one.

    I very much relate to several marginalized identities. I am a woman, I stutter, and I have some physical disabilities (that I have not always had. I’ve acquired diabetes and neuropathy.) I also have a lot of guilt and shame for the stuttering and physical limitations I have.

    I hid my stuttering for years, which made it all the harder to openly stutter when my hand was forced. And I believe I had control and choice over developing diabetes, so I feel very guilty about needing accommodations sometimes for what I brought upon myself.

    But like you, I have learned so much from these lived experiences. I learned that finding my tribe of other people who stutter has helped chip away at the isolation I have long felt, particularly as a woman who stutters, since statistically we are a rarity.

    I like your description that we don’t have to ‘stay stuck,” that there are always other choices to be made.

    And yes, I/we are always a work in progress. How could we not be? Every day is different and we have some control how our lives evolve.

    What prompted you to share this with us? To tell this story?

    Pam

    • Thank you Pam!! As a poet, I have learned to be concise with my writing. I appreciate you sharing your story as well, especially “harder to openly stutter when my hand was forced.” I wanted to tell my story because I get so few opportunities to do so. I have felt silenced in many ways, and haven’t always felt free to talk openly about my identities. I felt like this was a safe space to begin doing that. This conference offers nice opportunities for people who stutter to talk openly without fear of judgment. Thank you for all that you do for the stuttering community!

  8. Derek,

    Wonderful paper! You made three fantastic points regarding how to move forward, which I read as, 1) create a supportive base for yourself, 2) view situations as opportunities, and 3) keep on growing (or as Kristin would say, keep evolving). Thanks so much. I feel honored to know you and to be able to learn from the wisdom you have gained!

    Regards,

    Lynne

    • Thank you so much, Lynne!!! Yes, those are my lessons. I feel honored to know and learn from you. I appreciate you reading my paper!

  9. Derek, I think it’s amazing you took the initiative to share your experience and points you’ve learned about yourself! I think this is what most people need to hear, that we’re all human and have become a roll model any who hears your stories. Thank you for sharing something so personal.

    Best,

    Courtney

  10. Hello Derek! I fully enjoyed your story and enjoyed the key points that you listed. Many times we forget how difficult it can be to juggle various hats that we wear in the world we live in. Thank you so much for sharing your truth and owning who are you. In a society where it is easy to fall victim to being negative and allowing others to “shut” us up. You are amazing in every way!

  11. Dear Derek

    Thank you so much for your wonderful paper. You have written so clearly, given superb, actionable advice, especially (for me): “You are not defined by one moment. Instead, it’s about how you transcend the moment.”

    Thank you for being vulnerable, for sharing, for explaining, for teaching.

    Hanan

    • Agreed 100%

      And Hanan’s observation gave me pause – to notice the powere of the words in that statement… “You are not defined by one moment. Instead, it’s about how you transcend the moment.”

      Couldn’t help but think of “Transcending Stuttering: The Inside Story”

    • Thank you so much, Hanan!!! I appreciate your comments, and appreciate you reading my story!

  12. Hi Dr. Daniels,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! We are students at the Univeristy of South Carolina Masters of Speech Pathology program and we really enjoyed hearing about your experiences. We had a few questions for you about your experiences as a PWS. We were wondering what inspired you to become an SLP and if there was anything you wish someone had taught you or told you during your own experiences in speech therapy that you make sure to share with your students now? We also have learned a lot about disclosure statements and how effective they can be and so we were curious what goes into your decision to disclose or not disclose your stutter? Finally we were interested in learning more about the experiences you have had as an adult that have helped to validate your identity. It was great reading your story and we look forward to learning more about your experiences and thoughts on disclosure and therapy.

    Thank you for your time!
    Lauren and Diana

    • Dear Lauren and Diana — thank you so much! Your comments are much appreciated! I was inspired to become an SLP because of the shame and embarrassment I felt about my stuttering. I wanted to bring more visibility to stuttering, and help others who stutter through clinic and research. I think I would want others to know that you are not alone because you stutter; that you are in no way flawed because you stutter, and there is a large community waiting to embrace you as a person who stutters. I had no idea that self-help groups even existed when I was growing up. Sometimes I disclose, and sometimes I don’t. For me, it all depends on whether or not I think the listener needs that information. I am at a point now where I don’t disclose as much because the listener is able to figure it out. Disclosure can be a powerful therapeutic strategy if done in a non-apologetic way, and if done in a way that fits how the client would actually say it. As an adult, having a community of people who stutter, and being around others who understand stuttering, is key to validating my identity. I don’t have to explain myself. Stuttering is just a characteristic, and something that’s normalized in my interactions. Best of luck to both of you! You are more than welcome to email me for further correspondence!

  13. Hi Derek,

    Two things resonated with me deeply.

    The first was, “When your identities aren’t reinforced by your environment, aren’t the norm for your environment, and few role models exist to help you navigate it all, you have to learn ways to make life satisfying.” Learning to make life satisfying is a skill. It requires creativity and courage. I was wondering if you had any advice for people who are struggling with this.

    The second was the quote from your guest speaker, “you are never stuck.” How true! This applies to so much in life but has special relevance to stuttering. It feels like we’re stuck but we actually have a plethora of options at our disposal. Its a very empowering thought.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    -Chris

    • Chris, I love your comment here.
      Especially this line:
      “Learning to make life satisfying is a skill. It requires creativity and courage.”
      I would love to explore this further with Derek, and with you.
      I think there is a lot we can put together as a starting/evolving piece.

    • Hi Chris! Thank for you reading my paper! I completely agree that creativity and courage are needed to make life satisfying. For me, I think I had the creativity but didn’t have the courage. Listening to other people’s stories that were similar to my own helped — which is why I am deciding to share my story more. Reading and listening to other people’s stories normalized my own story, and I learned that authenticity was within reach, even if I wasn’t yet ready. Years ago, I heard a quote from Oprah Winfrey, which I have said to myself a lot over the years, and I will say to anyone struggling to be their authentic selves — if you make a choice or decide to live your life in way that displeases someone else, the world will not fall apart. It’s possible that you might experience some discomfort for a while, but life moves on, and there’s a lot of life to be enjoyed. Find the spaces that embrace you, and do what you love. I love your question, Chris! I will have to think more deeply about it.

  14. Dr. Daniels,
    Thank you for sharing about your resiliency. I greatly appreciated learning more about stuttering and marginalized identities from your perspective.

    As a second-year speech-language pathology graduate student, what would be your advice to a new clinician who is counseling a child with a stutter and the parents on creating a supportive community? On moving through “being stuck” in opportunities and mentally/emotionally?

    Thank you again for sharing your story, and for your time.
    – Jordan

    • Thank you, Jordan!!! My advice is to always emphasize that the person who stutters is okay — regardless of whether or not they stutter. If you make that your starting point, then you won’t go wrong. I would also read and learn more about the social model of disability. This informs my counseling of people who stutter and their families. Also, communication is what we are after, and this extends beyond fluency. A supportive environment is demonstrating patience, not imposing time-pressure, and advocating on behalf of the child. I would also emphasize being connected to a community of people who stutter through NSA and FRIENDS. I am happy to correspond further if necessary. Best of luck to you in your graduate program!

  15. Derek, as you well know, you are one the people I admire most.
    We have shared (too) few times to connect, however the richness of encounters with you leave me filled with value and impacted for days and weeks into the future.

    Your authenticity, courage and the dignity with which you carry yourself, are all traits I deeply admire and learn from.

    Indeed, “we are always a work in progress.” All of us.

    You Derek, you embody the work; and you are the progress.

    Thanks for this piece. It will keep me thinking, perculating and looking ahead to our next connection… Sooner than later I hope.

    (Check your inbox.)

    • Uri — oh, how I appreciate this! The feelings are mutual. Thank you so much, friend! We will be in touch soon. All my best!

  16. Dr. Daniels,

    What resonated with me most from your submission is this quote “We are always a work in progress – sometimes we step forward, and sometimes we step back. Resiliency for me is not giving myself a hard time when I take a step backwards. It’s knowing that’s it’s okay to sometimes not be okay, and the okay moments will keep coming back.”.

    Often, whether intentional or not, we treat learning as a destination when really there is no end in sight. We should be committed to lifelong learning concerning people’s identities and ways we can be respectful to the multifaceted natures of individual people.

    Thank you so much for naming this and enabling me to keep this top of mind. It also reminds that learning and growth happens in the uncomfortable places. In those places, we are able to grow and mature and our thinking is expanded.

  17. Dr. Daniels,

    Thank your for sharing your experience living with multiple marginalized identities. I believe that by hearing stories and experiences from other peoples perspectives we are taking another step closer in our ability to respect and support one another. I thank you for sharing and being a role model for others to follow.

  18. Derek, Oh my goodness that line at the end, “resiliency for me is not giving myself a hard time when I take a step backwards.” Wow, that hit home with me. This is so hard to do for me at times, and I feel like I need to write this in quotation marks on a piece of paper on my wall at home, credit your quote, and look at it every day. Thank you for sharing your story and your words. I enjoyed reading this very much.

    • Oh wow! I’m glad to know that my words have moved you in this way. We swing back and forth all the time. Whenever I feel like I’ve taken a step backwards, instead of giving myself a hard time, I quote my colleague and mentor Kristin Chmela: “what’s the next right move?” And from there, I can get myself back on track.